Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Sword of Greed or the Sword of Generosity

An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.

It’s an understandable reaction to being wronged, but sometimes the best answer doesn’t make logical sense.

Jesus said if you live by the sword, you die by it as well. Whatever rules we choose to engage in, we must be willing to have those same rules enacted upon us. If I live a critical, negative and judgmental life, I should not be surprised when you treat me in the same manner.

As I mentioned in my last post, the emotion that many of us are feeling towards the spirit of Greed we see in our country today is acute. It angers us to see it, and rightly so, but we must be fully aware of the sword it is causing us to wield.

Folks complain that Wall Street executives make zillions in bonuses while their employees suffer and their companies go under. The corporate big-wigs giving no concern for those who work for them; I’m not sure how that works in their mind. As a business owner, I look at this and scratch my head. I would never want to treat people that way. But if I lost my job at a company where the CEO got a huge Christmas bonus and I got a pink slip, how would that make me feel? Yea, I’d be pissed too.

But where should I direct that outrage? How effective would it be for me to protest in front of the CEO’s house? It might make me feel vindicated to give him the finger and a piece of my mind, but what impact would it have on the Spirit of Greed?

If I live by the sword of anger, I must be willing to die by that sword. What do I have in the end when I exchange Anger for Anger? Everybody ends up angry.

I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, in which he addresses how movements begin. They often can be traced back to simple, small beginnings. A trend starts because a few kids start wearing a particular shoe, that then gets noticed by a photographer, that gets noticed by a fashion designer, that gets noticed by a buyer, that ends up in stores all across the country and on the feet of hundreds of thousands of people. This is the nutshell version.

What if a Spirit of Generosity reached a tipping point?

It bothers me that in the majority of the noise I hear on the news, you can feel the anger. This goes for the Left and the Right. Everyone is angry and mad as hell. Is that sword really going to make anyone change their tune?

I memorized this bible verse years ago, which says, by what a man is overcome, by this is he enslaved. The explanation given to me was in a negative light, that if you are overcome by alcohol, then you are enslaved to alcohol, if you are overcome by Greed, then you are a slave to possession. I affirm that this would be a true conclusion, but could it work in the converse? Just as a person can be overcome by Evil, can a person be overcome by Good? I see a lot of people overcome by anger and rage at the Greed that pervades our culture, but what would happen if a movement of people was overcome by Generosity?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Solutions to Undefined Problems

I say it often, and that is, I am fascinated by behavior I don’t understand, which is part reason why I don’t think I ever made a very good evangelical. I found myself more interested in knowing why you believe what you believe than in me trying to explain to you the Good News. Even though I was trained and capable of sharing the 4 Spiritual Laws in my sleep, I was never quite comfortable with the approach. I always found myself asking more questions than giving answers.

While I do hold to my opinions, I’m not one to feel the need to argue a point. Political news shows that get pundits riled up and shouting at each other lead me to switch channels to something a little mellower. Contention creates drama, which some people seem to thrive upon, but it wears me out and makes me want to change the subject.

Our current political discourse is rife with this kind of quarrelling, which is both repulsive and alluring. I’m turned off by the polarization, but I am drawn in like a mouse to the cheese because there is so much belief and behavior I don’t understand. And I want to know why.

Take the Tea Party/Occupy Wall Street extremes. Some would say these are, in essence, the same reaction to the same economic concerns, with the main difference being one is far right and the other is far left. I’m not sure it’s that clear cut, but for purposes of laying out my thought process, let’s use it as a starting point.

The Political Right becomes upset with the status quo. It rallies together, organizes itself into what is known as the Tea Party. It creates a fairly understandable message; smaller government, lower debt, lower taxes, and campaigns on this platform, and eventually made a difference in last year’s midterm election. As I see it, the source of their anger was quantifiable and practically addressed. Cutting government spending and lowering taxes, whether you agree with it or not, is something that can be easily understood and enacted upon.

On the other hand, The Political Left, also becomes upset with the status quo. It rallies together, organizes itself into what is known as the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Yet its message is not quite so clearly articulated. It lacks order and identifiable spokespersons. It is seen by the general public as chaotic and immature. Described as a movement of hippies, Marxists, anarchist, and losers, the effort lacks cohesion and clarity, and therefore dismissed by those who are unsympathetic.

But to the thoughtful I would offer an appeal to not write the movement off carte blanche. You may disagree with the solutions being offered and miss the root cause of the provocation in the first place.

The first step in any kind of problem solving process is to first identify the problem. It sounds simple enough, but it fails to get done in many cases. Leadership must ask, “What is the problem we need to address?” and assist everyone involved to at least agree on what the answer to that question is. But too often we leap over this initial first step into providing our own answers to how we think the problem should be handled and heave blasting critiques to the solutions offered by those with whom we disagree.

In casual conversations with people, I like to ask those with opposing views if they know what problem the Tea Party is trying to address. I’m amazed at some of the first things out of the mouth are not defined problems, but characterizations of what they think of the movement; bigots, racists, homophobes, etc. When I do the same for the other side, and ask for opinions of what the Occupy Wall Street Movement stands for, I get the same kinds of replies; losers, lazy, socialists, freaks.

No problem identified yet.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and try to oversimplify the two movements from my vantage point. As I see it, the Right is trying to address a practical problem, while the Left is feeling the brunt of a spiritual matter.

Our country has a debt crisis. I would hope that is obvious to see. Our government spends more than it takes in. This is not a hard concept to understand. It’s the essence of sustainability. Produce more than you consume, and you can count on a sustained future. If we all agree on this, then we can get to work on a solution. Whether you think there should be more tax cuts, tax hikes, taxing the rich, cut this, cut that, spend more, spend less; these are solutions, however differing they may be. But before we tear each other apart for our solutions, have we agreed upon a common problem?

But our country is also in a spiritual crisis, and this one is a whole lot harder to pin down and address. By spiritual I don’t imply religious, but I would like to believe than an atheist, agnostic and religious person can all agree that Greed is a problem. Greed has wrecked havoc on our financial system, and not just within our borders, but around the globe as well. Greed is a longstanding human transgression, branded as one of the seven deadly sins. It has been with us since the beginning of time, and it’s not planning to go away anytime soon.

When I say spiritual, I mean just that. Greed is a spirit, much like the wind, you don’t see it, but you recognize its presence and acknowledge its consequences. And like telling the wind which way to blow, it’s my view that similarly, Greed that is immune to legislation. Sure, we can put regulations in place, stack on more and more layers of oversight and control, but Greed will still find a way around the system, and will forever take advantage of those who get in its way. Regulation is a solution, but the problem of Greed will still exist.

When I check in on the Occupy Protesters, I listen for their yearnings, not their demands. Yearning is provoked by the Problem; demands are only a response to the Problem. And if the problem is spiritual, it only makes sense to me that the reaction to it would be equally hard to pin down and quantify. Anger and outrage are understandable. They, too, are spiritual reactions.

I remember reading the parenting books when my kids were toddlers. The consensus among them was never discipline or act out in anger. The emotion may be justified as an initial response to behavior, but unchecked anger will only be interpreted as combative, not constructive. An eye for an eye leaves two people blind.

Greed is a problem and should make us angry, but it needs to lead to a constructive solution. Spiritual matters require spiritual solutions, and there is no better solution than an inspiring one versus a condemning one. Greed can be countered by its antithesis, Generosity. Can you imagine what it would look like if our nation adopted a spirit of bounty in response?

Every great awakening starts somewhere…

Sunday, June 19, 2011

All that glitters is not gold

Those who are not have a hard time understanding those of us who are, we introverts, who have an odd sort of need for time alone. The extroverts have interpretations of this requirement of anything from being unfriendly to Ted Kaczynski-like strange. But if you are one, you have an innate knowledge of what I am talking about. You may not be able to explain it, but just as effective as aspirin to a headache, so is solitude to your internal soul.

On Father's Day this morning, I began a little hashtag on Twitter (#rememberingdad) of little sayings I recall hearing from my Dad over the years. Like the time I had a flat and was so flustered by it that he simply replied, "don't cuss the one that went down; be glad the other four didn't."

"The other four? I asked. "What do you mean?"

"You've got a spare don't you? Three plus one equals four."

And thus was his simplicity of reason and his thoughtful approach to life that I saw over and over again. To this day, one of the most profound sayings he would share with me when something didn't seem quite right, like finding a bargain too good to be true, or a sales pitch offering something for nothing.

"All that glitters is not gold; All that titters is not tit."

Here again reminding me that not everything is as it seems.

But this can work in the converse, also. Some situations are much better than they appear to the naked eye. The old proverb states that there is a man who appears to be poor, yet has great wealth. Treasure is hidden, and many times left that way. It's much easier to safeguard by keeping it quiet.

Now, nearly six years after my dad's passing, I realize he was a man of great wealth, a keeper of a deep reservoir of thought, insight and knowledge, that very few people got access to. I remember him spending hours alone, on the tractor tending to our 26 acres of woods and pasture grass, or in his hand-built workshop, fixing, welding or maybe just simply enjoying the reward that the privacy proffered. I never really thought of it at the time. I was busy in my own mind to even notice or inquire. But if I had the opportunity today, I'd begin with my list of questions for him that grows longer with each continual year without him.

The more complicated my life becomes, the more I yearn for a tractor to ride, a pasture to mow, or a rose garden to tend. These were among Dad's diversions in which he found great pleasure, and which gave his mind the space it needed to explore his thoughts, much like a spelunker moving into a passage only large enough for one person to pass. It's not that you don't like people; it's just that there are some internal places too tiny for inclusion and need to be sussed out alone.

While I wish my Dad was still alive, to be able to call him today, hear his voice, and to feel his pride, I am still able to enjoy another bit of wisdom he left behind. "Don't be sad for what you don't have; be thankful for what you missed out on." Dad isn't with us any longer, but I missed out not having a father of which I was not proud.

Thank you, Dad. May I carry your legacy well.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Of music and woodsmoke

Today is my annual day to sort through my guilt for not attending a gathering of The Church As We Know It, even though I haven't participated in years. I would lie if I said I didn't ponder it, or that I am indifferent to it, even though I have been exiled for quite some time.

I think part of the residue I still carry is that my faith was public for about half of my life. I made my living because of my faith. There were expectations put on me to set an example that was culturally agreed upon by the evangelical community of which I was a part. When someone else pays your salary, you have an obligation to follow their rules. I see nothing wrong with that. The predicament arises when you can no longer balance your questions with the expectations.

When I finally came to the point of assuming sole responsibility and accountability for my faith, I decided I could start doing away with some of the excess baggage and loosen my load. Since I would be sailing uncharted waters and exploring terra incognito, it seemed a good idea to travel light. Attending The Church As We Know It was one of the parcels that got left on the dock.

So here I sit alone, Easter Sunday, watching the smoker billow its gray breath of apple wood fumes. My wife and daughter off to their respective houses of worship as I stay home and listen to the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ, something I have done every year for the last ten or so years. Between the ancient sound of the music and the primal sensation of the fire, I have enough to keep my mind occupied with these two simple, natural promptings. My soul is full. There is not room for much more right now.

I know all across my city, and all across this land, there are major productions of worship being staged for the benefit and blessing of millions. I hesitate to dub it with a negative description, because many will find their way closer to God via these means, for which I am glad. It's just that, for me, when the stage that gets set, literally, with trusses of lights, cameras, video screens, sound reinforcement, and choreography, all put in place by an army of workers and volunteers for a moment in time on Sunday morning, my circuit breakers trip as quickly as running four hair dryers out of one outlet. That which I once participated and even promoted, now feels so foreign, so far away, from the point on my current horizon.

As with most of my writing, I am authoring these words for my own benefit. I am reminding myself of the reason I embarked on this journey in the first place. The unexplored seas can bring isolation, but also great exhilaration. The solitude of my new direction fosters a profundity of new stimulation for the sake of my faith. I never knew what I had until I stripped away the veneer that covered the true foundation.

He is risen, and He has risen in me, indeed.

Happy Easter

PS. Fitting to finish on track 15, it captures the passion for which the song is aptly titled.